The Relationship between Religion and Globalization
By Alan D. Griffin
The main societal benefit of religion historically was that it created a sense of solidary in tribes, city-states and even nations. The common religious faith of a community and culture has held societies together and has influenced the outcome of those societies throughout history. The role of religion today is changing and shifting to try to adjust to a newly globalized world. This research on the subject of the relationship between religion and globalization began with the assumption that all religion is adverse and detrimental to secular globalization. This assumption was based on several observations, such as the media based information on radical Islamic, the rise in Christian fundamentalism, the growing political atheist groups, and the fear of religious syncretism. To investigate these assumptions main areas concerning religion and globalization were researched, such as the origin of secular globalization, religious perspectives, religious fundamentalism, and religious syncretism.
The journey toward globalization is as old as mankind itself. As the first humans began to leave Africa and spread throughout the world we took the first step toward globalization. The mission of Spanish Conquistadors to venture out for God, gold and glory was the first major steps toward true globalization in the west. The Protestant Reformation which caused masses of people to flee persecution from the Catholic Church in Europe which sent puritans and pilgrims to the new world was the second major milestone in the journey of globalization. What caused this seemingly religious based movement toward globalization to become Secularized and why? The best answers to these questions are found in the writings of a German born sociologist and political Economist Max Weber. In Weber most famous work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Weber proposed that the Calvinist ethic and ideas influenced capitalism. Calvinists believe in predestination and that only the elect will be saved. This led to a psychological need amongst Calvinists to find some proof that one was preordained for salvation (SparkNotes). They also believed that God only blessed the elect with a good life. A strong work ethic developed to reassure Calvinists of election. The idea was that the harder you work the better your life and the more likely you are to be one of the elect. This concept was best realized in a free market economy that capitalism provided. Calvinists also believe in living on the bare minimum, which led to greater investments back into businesses which help grow the economy under the capitalist system (SparkNotes). Protestantism of all types encouraged the rejection of hierarchy and community in regard to salvation which eventually spread to rejection of hierarchy (monopoly or oligopoly) and community (guilds and trades restrictions) in regards to other aspects of life as well, which helped strengthen free market capitalism. This was the beginning of secularization known as the protestant deformation. The protestant deformation led to the accumulation of wealth and need for luxury which became the focus of individuals instead of reassurance of salvation. Secularization of free markets and equal opportunity led to free elections, liberal democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law which dominated western culture (Kurth). The exportation of these secular concepts from the west to the rest of the world is the basis of globalization today.
There are three main perspectives to view the role of religion in the context of globalization. The modernist perspective embraces the Enlightenment, rationalism, empiricism, and science. Modernists believe that “Enlightenment and secularization progressively spreads from the educated elite to other people as well, from the center of society to the periphery” (Kurth). Religious communities that would still remain would consist of marginal people. These religious communities would come into conflict with each other and the enlightened center and secular groups from time to time (Kurth). This is the perspective taken by secular society which is currently driving globalization and far left political groups in the U.S. such as the New American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The Post- Modernist perspective rejects traditional, pre-modern religions and also rejects the enlightenment and modernist views. The core value of Post-Modernism is expressive individualism (Kurth). This position of individuality and relativism seems to be the majority view currently portrayed in western society especially among the youth. The Pre-Modernist perspective is the view that secular ideologies will fail and when they fail the only real effective opposition to secularization and the state that exalted it will not develop from intellectuals, professionals, and managers. The opposition movement will develop among religious believers because only in religious communities there will be large enough numbers of people willing to sacrifice their security for a greater movement. The religious faith and religious community gives the supporters the commitment and courage to persist in their opposition (Kurth). This is the stance of radical Islam and Christian fundamentalists among others, which is causing a push back against secular globalization. These Three perspectives represent the vast majority of conflicting ideologies in the struggle for globalization.
Fundamentalism is the strict adherence to specific theological doctrines usually understood as a reaction to Modernist theology and ideology. Christian fundamentalism which is most associated with the term fundamentalism began as an American evangelical Christianity in the late 19th century and early 20th century which was opposed to both Modernism in theology and the cultural changes that Modernism endorsed (“Fundamentalism”). “Islamic fundamentalism pushes for sharia law and has come into conflict with conceptions of the secular, democratic state, such as the internationally supported Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (“Fundamentalism”). Islamic fundamentalism consists of groups such as Hamas and The Muslim Brotherhood. These groups are against such secular and western ideas as separation of religion and state, freedom of religion, Freedom of speech, and gender related equal rights issues. There is a recent phenomenon in India that has led to political mobilization against Muslims (“Fundamentalism”). Fundamentalism no matter what religion that fundamentalism is related to is a push back against the secular approach to globalization.
The fear of religious syncretism is another driving force of fundamentalism and the resistance to globalization. “Religious syncretism exhibits the blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into religious tradition beliefs from unrelated traditions” (“Syncretism”). There are several examples of religious syncretism that are familiar to most people in the United States. This religious syncretism began after the fall of the Roman Empire as Christianity spread into the Pagan territories of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The first example is the symbolism in the Christmas holiday. There is the symbolism associated with Christianity such as Nativity scenes, the star of Bethlehem, the three wise men, and the manger. There are also pagan symbols of Father Time Which represents the death of the year on December 25 which is the shortest day of the year known as the winter solstice. Father Time is the archetype in which the modern day depiction of Santa Claus is derived. The Christmas tree is also derived from pagan roots, no pun intended, which is an evergreen tree that is a symbol of life’s triumph over death, because it remains green when all other trees have turned brown and lost their leaves in the winter months (“Christmas ‘Pagan Origins”). The symbol of the New Year’s baby is a pagan symbol of new birth after the winter solstice as the days again begin to lengthen as we move toward the new life of spring. Another example of religious syncretism is the Easter holiday. The Easter holiday is to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. The symbolism that surrounds the holiday is all Pagan in origin except the crucifix. The vernal equinox was a pagan holiday is which the worship of symbols of fertility and new life such as the rabbit and the egg were celebrated. This is the origin of Easter eggs and the Easter bunny in modern Easter celebrations. The word Easter is derived from the pagan Goddess of fertility Eostere, who is often depicted with rabbits and eggs (“Easter Symbols and Tradition”). A modern day example of religious syncretism is that of Chrislam. Christlam began in Nigeria and is a syncretistic religion which mixes elements of both Christianity and Islam. Chrislam was founded by a man named Tela Tella in the 1970’s and the sect predominantly exists in Lagos, Nigeria. Chrislam uses both the bible and the Qur’an in worship and considers them equally holy texts. “The concept of Chrislam, now embraced by such preachers as Rick Warren and Robert Schuller, appears to have emerged from a program on the meaning of “love your neighbor” at Grace Fellowship Church in Atlanta, Georgia,…” (Sanderson).The development and rise of Chrislam is religious syncretism that was born and has spread through globalization. This type of religious syncretism is causing great anxiety among religious groups around the world and is one of many driving forces behind the terrorist attacks of radical Islam.
In his book the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon wrote that the Roman Empire spread the Christian Religion throughout the ancient world, but that the Christian religion then undermined the Roman Empire (Kurth). Just as Christianity undermined the Roman Empire the Protestant Reformation undermined the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Then, the Protestant work Ethic undermined Protestantism in the form of the Protestant deformation. In our own time it seems the American empire is spreading secularization throughout the modern world. The exportation of secular economics, culture, and government will undermine the American empire itself (Kurth).The ultimate outcome of globalization is to remove all barriers between people and societies, including individual nations.
The ultimate findings of this research are that Calvinist Protestantism began the modern globalization process. The protestant deformation secularized that globalization. Fundamentalism of all kinds is the main resistance against secular globalization. Religion began globalization and religion may very well be the cause of the unraveling of secular globalization. In conclusion religion was imperative to the globalization process. Globalization in the form of religious syncretism is imperative to the further evolution of religion. My evaluation is that the assumption that religion is detrimental and adverse to Globalization is not entirely correct. Instead religion has both detrimental and beneficial to globalization and globalization has been both detrimental and beneficial to religion.
“Christmas' Pagan Origins.” 2011. Essortment. < http://www.essortment.com/christmas-pagan-origins-42543.html>
“Easter Symbols and Traditions.” 2011. The History Channel website. Dec 11 2011, 7:45
“Fundamentalism.” 2011.Wikipedia. Dec 7 2011, 17:39.
Kurth, James. “Religion and Globalization.” 1999. FPRI Press. May 1999.
Sanderson, Mike. “An Article on Chrislam....should raise the hair on your neck.” 2011. Wordpress. Feb 6 2011.
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d..< http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/protestantethic/ (accessed December 2, 2011).>
“Syncretism.” 2011. Wikipedia. Nov 12 2011, 14:34. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncretism>
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